Auto industry veteran joins WKU

Aaron Mudd

After more than 30 years in the automotive industry, Dave Tatman is switching gears.

Before joining WKU as associate vice president of Automotive and Manufacturing in the Office of Research, Tatman was managing the Bowling Green Assembly Plant, a manufacturing plant specializing in Corvette production. 

Tatman said his journey to Bowling Green began when he was an undergraduate at Ohio State University.

Tatman’s professor encouraged him to interview for a General Motors Co. scholarship, which covered tuition and offered work assignments. 

“So I signed up and I interviewed, and lo and behold I got the scholarship,” Tatman said. 

Tatman, who majored in engineering, worked with GM as an intern for two summers during college. 

“When I came out of school I had 12 different job offers and I think probably five of ‘em were automotive related and it just seemed like the place to go,” he said.

Tatman said he’s always been interested in mechanical engineering even back in his high school days when he would race on his employer’s off-road track. 

Tatman’s short time with GM in college turned into a 34-year career in the auto industry, a career that took him to 13 different locations in three countries, including Brazil.

He credits his success to some advice he received early on from a co-worker who said he would go a long way in the company.

“He says (sic.), ‘Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, whatever microcosm of GM you’re responsible for, make it run as good as you can,’” Tatman said. 

Tatman said he made that his focus instead of worrying about where his next advancement was going to come from.

The Bowling Green Assembly Plant became Tatman’s last pit stop with GM when he retired in March. He had always dreamed of teaching after retiring. 

After speaking with WKU administrators, Tatman said a position was created for him. Tatman started July 1. 

Vice President for Research Gordon Baylis was instrumental in bringing Tatman to WKU. 

“I’m very keen on bringing people from industry into work with universities ‘cause I think universities need to be better connected to industry,” Baylis said.

Tatman divides his time between WKU and leading the Kentucky Automotive Industry Association, an organization working to develop Kentucky’s auto industry. Tatman’s role is to link WKU’s applied research programs to the industry and work on initiatives for the state, Baylis said.

“But the real reality is that a lot of what he’s doing for the state and a lot of what he’s doing for us overlaps because for the automotive industry to be really successful it would want to connect to universities better,” Baylis said. “And we certainly want to connect to the automotive industry better.” 

Bowling Green senior Kathleen Angerbauer tried to get real-world experience by interning at the Bowling Green Assembly Plant for two summers while Tatman was plant manager. She was surprised with how well what she was learning in school matched up with her time at the plant. 

“I think one of the biggest things I learned was what they’re teaching you in school, you know, like teamwork…it’s not any different from how real life is,” she said.

Tatman said he looks for real-world work experience and community involvement as a GM employee interviewing college students.

“Not only did I look at their academic accomplishments, and that was a part of it, but really the important part to me was, you know, what did they do beyond the classroom,” Tatman said.